By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:10-16 (ESV)
If we think that it is possible for us to love everyone all the time, realistically we have to admit we don’t. It’s really easy to become cynical and unloving toward our fellow humans when we turn on the news, when we look out the door, drive on the freeway, or end up cleaning up after a family member yet again. Sinful humanity is really good at letting each other down.
Love does not come naturally to us. Anyone who has observed toddlers (or automotive technicians) for any length of time will find that human nature compels our hearts to stay focused on me, me, me. It is hard to observe small children for any length of time without fights breaking out over who possesses what thing, or over who gets the most attention or privileges. If one child wants a particular toy, the others will want that toy as well, no matter how many toys each child already has. If Grandma is busy with child A, child B will barge in and scream for Grandma’s attention as well.
When humans are left to our own devices, we look out for our own well being, but not so much for the well being of others. We put our own interests and feelings first. Any of us put in the right situation can act just as Cain did. That inclination toward evil is built into our flesh and has been with humanity since the Fall.
God gave us His Law and His commandments because He knows that we need boundaries for our behavior. The Law is a good thing even if we can’t observe it completely and faithfully. Even with protective boundaries, God knew we could not keep His Law and redeem ourselves by good behavior no matter how hard we try.
Because God knew we could not save ourselves, He sent His Son Jesus to die and rise again to save us from our sins. He took the punishment that brings us peace and bore the wounds that bring us our healing, as well as our salvation, restoration and sanctification. (Isaiah 53:5) Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing. Not because He had to, but because God loves us.
In our Baptism we are adopted into God’s family. With the water and the Word we are baptized into the crucifixion and death of Jesus as well as we share in His resurrection. We share in His suffering, but we also share in eternal life. Our sins are washed away, and we are set free to act as who we have become in Christ.
The difficult part of this paradox of being a sinful human, but a saint of God at the same time (simul justus et peccator) is that we cannot completely drown the “old Adam.” Even if we take the good advice of Martin Luther and put on Baptism as daily wear, we find that we don’t always have the mind of Christ. We still sin no matter how hard we try not to. We still lose our patience, we still scream “me, me, me” like a toddler, and we still hold grudges and offenses against those around us. All we can do is lean on and rely on Jesus.
Love is the greatest commandment of the Law- to love God and to love our neighbor- including those neighbors we aren’t too thrilled to claim. Apart from Jesus we cannot breathe. We cannot have life. We cannot save ourselves. Apart from Jesus we can’t even think of loving God or anyone else. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus took our place. He does for us what we cannot do ourselves. He gives us all we need and walks with us through every day. Because of His love for us we are called to respond in love for those around us, that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.